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The Adventure of Life: Update

I feel like the last few posts of mine have been very much produced by the self-reflective realm of my brain. I guess the past year and a bit has made me contemplate a lot.

But it’s been a while since I last wrote and, honestly, I don’t want to think too hard about anything right now. So, I figured a good ol’ fashioned update-on-life post was in order ;)

Well, after the fiasco with getting sick and having to bow out of the show I was supposed to sing in back in March, I decided to reach out to another venue. Luckily they said they’d be glad to have me perform there!

In the meantime though, I had great adventures to tackle — a solo trip to Peru …!

I tried out hostel living for the first time and met some seriously awesome travellers. I went on a walking tour and ended up making friends with our guides Arturo and Mario. It was great to hang out in Lima both with my hostel roomies as well as some locals.

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Arturo and I taste-tasting desserts at the Plaza de Armas in Lima’s historic center

Of course I needed my getaway in nature, so I took off from the busy streets of Lima to the remote Andes mountains. Tucked away at 3,200 metres in those grand ranges is a tiny village called San Pedro de Casta. From there, you can do a hike up to Marcahuasi which is known for its strange and sacred monolithic stone sculptures.

After trekking up to 4,000 metres elevation, I felt like I had run a marathon. Once reaching the top, my young guide Oswaldo and our faithful canine companion Chance had our lunch at this panoramic vista and all passed out for a nap.

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On the Marcahuasi plateau, trying to stay vertical for this photo

I was only in Peru for eight days, but felt like I had been gone forever thanks to the full experience I had while I was there.

When I got back to Toronto, it was time to buckle down and prepare for the show! I actually had a 2-hour slot, so lots of new songs had to be learned. Then, one day I received word that the venue I was going to perform at was closing down its doors. I couldn’t believe my luck (or complete lack thereof)!!

I debated giving up … or giving this performing thing one more shot. After a hopeful phone call to the most awesome Michael Burton at the Free Times Cafe, I had a date and time booked there for July!

In the meantime though, summer was in full swing. I was finally coming out of hibernation mode and June saw my birthday, which basically amounted to an eating spree over four days and change. I was honestly kind of dreading turning 34, but by the time the day came around, I had accepted my fate. Really, I have lived such a full 34 years and am so grateful for everything all of my life experiences have taught me thus far!

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Starting the birthday eating marathon (not pictured here: my lunchtime scotch)

After all the food and wine consumption, I needed to summon some restraint so I could get my voice into gear for the show. This was such a long time in the making, but all of the practicing and prepping was worth it. We had a full house and some of the most dearest people to me came out to support <3

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Special thanks to Roarshack Photography for capturing the memories :)

A cover of one of my fave love songs, “Ready For Love” by India Arie <3

After the show, my brain had to switch to camping mode fast. I had three weeks(!) in Killarney Provincial Park planned for August, but was way behind in being prepared for it!

In the meantime, I kick-started the camping season with a short trip to Bruce Peninsula, hiking the Lion’s Head trail. It was also my first time volunteering for Parkbus, the awesome service I took last year to do my solo camping trips.

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Enjoying solitude and dreamy clouds at McKay’s Harbour on the Lion’s Head hiking trail

Then, my epic three-week backcountry adventure in Killarney Provincial Park arrived. It was so unreal to be out there for so long — but at the same time, it felt completely right.

I went canoeing with my friends Dave and Steve, who had taken me on my very first backcountry trip ~15 years ago. We enjoyed the hot weather, lots of swimming, and the super addictive game Hanabi.

After they left, I was joined by my cousin Lilli, friend Lucy, and their dogs Smokey and Noodles for the first ~5 km of the La Cloche Silhouette hiking loop. We got the rainy part of the trip, but some sunshine for a day hike to The Crack and lots of food and laughs.

Then we parted ways and I took off for a ~12-day solo trek around the rest of the loop. Words just can’t do justice to the experience … at this time, it feels like a complete dream that I was standing on those beautiful ridges, looking out onto those awe-inspiring views.

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Proof it wasn’t all a dream …

After sadly rejoining civilization, reality hit big time. It was September (still is September), a really big month for me. It’s the ending of a couple of journeys, including my current job and the career path I’ve been walking down the last ~8 years.

I’ll also be saying good-bye to not only my apartment but to the city I’ve grown up and lived in all my life. It’s a sort of temporary farewell, but it marks a huge life change … I’m nervous, excited and ready to take the leap into The Great Unknown.

Over the past couple of years, I have come to realize without a doubt that living more of my life in nature is the right thing to do for myself. I love being in the outdoors, perhaps need to be out there. Every time I get back onto the trail, amongst the trees, that sense of comfort and happiness comes over me. And so, I’ve made the decision to do just that.

To start this new journey, I’ll be taking a vacation of sorts to Tuscany, Italy to volunteer on an organic vineyard (hey, someone’s gotta help make the vino). When I get back, I’ll be living the farm life and exploring a new career path that lets me live more in the outdoors and travel abroad. I’ll keep writing about my adventures, whether it’s here in my humble abode in the blogosophere or on a new website currently brewing in my mind :)

In the meantime, I hope you’ve all had a full and exciting past few months and that you never stop dreaming for the future.

Yours truly,
Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

Feelings

Tonight I had to cancel a show that I had been preparing for — that I had pretty much revolved my whole life outside of work around — for the past two months.

For some reason — or reasons — this show meant the world to me. It held all of my passion and drive captive. It felt like I was taking the biggest leap to the moon because, for once, I was actually excited about performing in front of people. After so many years — a whole lifetime — of stage fright, I was excited.

And what I finally realized just last night, the biggest thing of all, is that it represented a moment where — before even stepping on stage, before I might receive any praise from anyone else — I completely believed that I would do an incredible job by my own standards. It was that self-validation, that I know I’m still in the process of working on, that I felt I was realizing.

I was working with two other singers on this show, as well as an event organizer who is a musician in his own right and had brought us together. He supported us, promoted us, put us on a pedestal. He was on the ball, so wonderfully communicative, making sure we were on the right track towards putting on a great night. He motivated me with our messages and conversations. He believed in us.

Him and I talked about our similar approach to putting on a show like this — that, while there was passion and fun involved, it was work. You put in the work and you get back so much more. And it wasn’t even about me hoping that “more” meant more performing opportunities. Whatever it led to might not even have to do with music.

But it was the lesson I have learned throughout my whole life, in which things have not been handed to me, that great opportunities that come along can and do lead to things that change your whole life around for the better, that change your perspectives for the better, that connect you to people who by virtue of knowing them make you better … if you put in the work.

So, I put in the work. I canceled plans when I felt even remotely exhausted because I didn’t want to get sick. Or I refused to make plans and explained that I need to stay home because I wanted to practice or rest. I drank almost nothing in the past month to preserve my voice. I studied my music, practiced my guitar playing.

But at the same time, I found myself going through continuous stress. Some of it related to the show. Some of it related to life. And I just kept telling myself that I needed to self-care. I needed to write about it. I needed to rest more. I needed to make healthy choices. I needed to meditate. I needed to let go of the frustration, bitterness, resentment and be accepting, adapting and compassionate.

I told myself that there were much bigger problems in life — like people getting their houses bombed in other countries — and that I had been through way worse in life, so I was going to be just fine.

And then, I got sick. And I have no issue saying that it was no fault of my own. But, wow, it was demoralizing. It was a slap in the face. It was a message from some asshole in the wings that it didn’t matter how hard I had tried, I was doomed to always get sick.

And yet, still, I told myself I had to stay positive. Because stressing would not help me get better, it would make me worse. And people would frown at me and wag their fingers if I didn’t do everything possible to be well for the show. And why was this such a big deal anyway? It. Was. Just. A. Show. Even if I couldn’t sing in it, I would be fine. Life would most definitely go on.

But I wasn’t fine. I was stressed. I was mad. I was disappointed.

It’s so ironic in a way, because while I have no real need to perform — like the kind of need I have to be in nature or to write music — I felt that my contribution to others in performing was to give them permission to feel.

I was willing to lay all of my emotions — pain, sadness, sensuality, despair, anger, hope — out on the table and through doing that, to let people know that it’s okay to feel these things.

I have always believed that one of the greatest, and most common, travesties in life is that people don’t let themselves feel. They bottle things up. They feel ashamed or scared of showing their emotions.

And here I was — after all that — not allowing myself to just feel. Why? Because I needed to be strong, be the “bigger person”, be there for others going through worse, be a “better me”.

I have cried non-stop the last two days. For so many reasons that go well beyond the unravelling of the show. As I was reminded today, in the past year I have checked off so many boxes on the Life Stressors list. And through it all, I don’t really know how much I have let myself truly grieve and accept that — while I’m stronger now — these things have still made their deep impact on me.

Crying has been exhausting. But it has been needed after so many self-denials to cry. Of course, I will pick myself up. I will do what I need to do to not spiral to a dangerous low. But in the meantime, I will cut myself some fricking slack and just let myself feel like the human being that I am.

~ Janice <3

New Year’s Eve Reflections in the Red Chair

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With 2015 drawing to a close, I put up a post on Facebook about my top four highlights of the year: joining the Song Talk Radio team, becoming a member of Cavaleiro Farm, going on my first solo camping trips, and singing at my first gig.

It has truly been a year of exploration, creativity and pursuing my passions. And the momentum is only growing as the New Year approaches.

What I didn’t mention though were some of the lowlights. For one, enduring some pretty stressful months at a job that I had gone into with my usual passion and gusto, but that ended up draining my spirit with its bureaucracy and politics.

I ended up getting laid off in the spring. There wasn’t enough funds to continue with the position, I was told. Fair enough — but all of the events leading up to the news and the way it went down made for a pretty demoralizing moment.

I was sent home — cardboard box full of stuff in hand — and retired to my couch, emotionally drained at the end of a (not so thrilling) rollercoaster ride.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long to conclude that the lay-off wasn’t even a blessing in disguise. It was simply a blessing. I had been miserable and losing hope that I could make the difference I wanted to in the organization — yet I was planning to stick it out until I could figure out what the heck to do with myself.

The lay-off was a kick in the ass that said: Go forth and figure it out NOW.

Life is truly too short to be spending it in limbo.

There was another, much bigger, event of upheaval in my life. It meant losing someone so important to me. And it also felt as though I’d now be returning back to a situation of instability that I had spent a lot of time in the past crawling out of.

There’s really no “but” to the first part — sometimes we just need to take the time to be sad and both grieve and honour our losses.

But to the latter, we also have to give ourselves more credit and believe that we can manage to be stronger than we’ve shown ourselves to be previously. To think otherwise is to concede that we haven’t picked out the important lessons we’ve needed to learn from all of our past trials and tribulations.

Life is truly too short to not be learning how we can do things better.

Within a year, there will be the good and the bad. What I’ve gathered is that there is so much that is out of our control, but what we can choose is to respond to what’s thrown at us with honesty. Honesty to ourselves and to others.

Sometimes that means growing a pair. Sometimes that means letting down your pride. Sometimes that means not looking so far ahead into the future and just asking ourselves what is the truth for me right now?

With only a few minutes left to go until 2016 is ushered in, I want to just focus on the “right now” — which finds me sitting in a quiet, empty house in this comfy, red sofa chair, glass of wine on one side of me, guitar on the other, reflecting and writing.

In a way, this snapshot of my evening represents what’s honest for me right now and this notion of “honesty in the present” is the only intention I’m setting going into the New Year. Everything else will follow.

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you may be doing, I wish you and yours a very wonderful New Year.

~ Cafe (a.k.a. Janice) <3

Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?

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‎I’ve recently been thinking a lot about ‎intelligence — smarts, talent, whatever you’d like to call it.

It’s interesting that no matter how intelligent you may be in reality, if you don’t believe or perceive that you are, ‎you’ll be stuck.

Stuck doing the minimum that you think you’re only worthy of doing — whether it’s the kind of job you go after, ‎pursuing certain interests you wish to develop, or anything else that requires self-belief.

I see someone I know going through this now and it breaks my heart knowing they are capable of so much more. ‎But somehow, over the years, they seem to have lost the confidence that this is the case. And so, they settle for less.

I’ve been there. And that’s why it distresses me to see her like this, because I know exactly how it feels to not believe in your own worth.

There’s been two main things in my younger years that led me to experience this same way of thinking about myself.

But before I get into that, I want to explain that I was always smart when I was very young. I did advanced math and was in my school’s gifted program. I was also very creative and read a lot of books and wrote stories and poems. ‎So objectively speaking, I was an intelligent kid.

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But the first thing that started me down the road to thinking less of myself was that I got into the cycle of working low-paying, survival jobs for many years.

I worked long, hard hours and usually multiple jobs at a time — but at the end of the day, I felt like I was working constantly around the clock towards a dead end as my destination.

It started when I was in high school and my family had to go on social assistance. Aside from attending school, I was also usually working a couple of part-time jobs to help out with the finances.

But if I thought that was hard, it got even more difficult when I moved out on my own, right after I graduated high school. At that point, I felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone else but myself.

There was never enough financial stability in my life to have the luxury of “taking time off” to gain experience towards some kind of meaningful career or to build up the skills I was lacking. Or to apply carefully to jobs and wait for the right one to come around.

It was “take what you could get” and, moreover, take it right away or you wouldn’t be able to pay rent the next month.

Living this kind of life meant constant physical and mental stress, and led me to feel a sense of hopelessness that would stomp down on my optimism. Even though I dreamed to have more for myself, that’s all I felt I could achieve because that was simply life as I knew it.

It was very difficult to fathom things like ever ‎making a certain salary (never mind actually working a salaried position with benefits and a pension plan), or becoming a manager, or running my own business.

Those things seemed to be meant for another type of person. Not me.

The second thing that got me to a point where I doubted my intelligence was that I was in a relationship for a period of time where — whenever he was mad — this guy would tell me that I was fucking stupid, an idiot, loser, retarded, pathetic, worthless.

Even if I objectively knew that he didn’t really think so when he wasn’t angry, it was hard not to internalize it after hearing it yelled at me again and again and again.

After a while, I seriously started questioning whether I was actually stupid. And it eventually got to the point where I felt so much hopelessness and despair when he’d yell those things at me, that I would punch my fist into my computer screen or bang my head against the wall.

I think it was the innate, visceral reaction of needing to fight back, except I had been so conditioned not to hurt him that I hurt myself instead.

I had come to feel very worthless — just like he said I was — and as though I was in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, unable to see a way out.

How could this be the rest of my life? I wondered.

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With all of the repeated instances where people put down your intelligence, and with all of the actions (or omissions) you make that reinforce the idea that you aren’t deserving of a better situation, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle where you stay stuck at the bottom.

‎And when I say “bottom”, I mean at the bottom of your potential. You never aim higher. You stay fearful. You don’t ask questions or reach out to people who could become your connection or knowledge base to “better” things.

And so, you never find out just what you’re capable of.

If you don’t believe something is possible and within your reach, why would you even try to take the steps to get there?

* * *

Since that time, I got accepted into a very competitive Master’s program and graduated with a 4.0 (out of 4.0) GPA. I have worked salaried positions. I have been a manager‎. I have proven to some of the most brilliant minds in my field of study that I am unequivocally deserving of their reference any time I’m applying for a new job.

I have also gone on three solo backcountry camping trips with zero fear and organized many group trips.‎ I have learned how to play the piano and guitar. I have composed my own songs.

I clearly am an intelligent person. ‎I always have been. It just took some time, a whole lot of sweat and tears, and an enormous amount of love and support to actually see it.

And now, I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.

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The road that led me down the deep, dark hole was long and complex. And thus, it was a long, complex process to get out of it.

One part of that journey was creating a new cycle in my life — one of continuous, positive reinforcement that told me: You are worthy to have better for yourself.

That positive reinforcement came in the same two ways that conditioned me to ‎grow my self-doubts:

In the same way as my ex continuously put me down with words to the point where I internalized his negative image of me, receiving constant messages of encouragement and belief in my talents ‎helped me to view myself in an alternative light.

Two further things on that: It meant choosing to surround myself with positive people who brought out and saw those good things in me. And while most of that validation came from others initially, I had to eventually find it in myself.

Secondly, just as fearing to aim higher resulted in me staying stuck in a cycle of insecurity, taking small (and eventually big) steps that resulted in personal successes gave me tangible proof that I could in fact accomplish things I once only wished for but never thought I could do.

The journey towards greater self-worth also involved a lot of other things, like going to counselling and finding ways to cope that were healthier than my defense mechanism of drinking.

It included building the social and human capital that we all need, but that I hadn’t learned to develop, in order to navigate the system.

It included finding a more stable living situation so that my mind could find greater stability. And it included having friends and family who gave me unconditional support through all the mistakes I made.

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It’s been a long road — it took many years — but it brings me an immense, unexplainable joy that I can now genuinely tell you how much I do truly believe in myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still and will always be a work-in-progress. But the distance I’ve come so far gives me hope that if I could get here, others who may not think it’s possible can too.

As much as I resented having to go down this road at times, I’m truly grateful for all that I’ve learned and for all of the people who stuck by me.

Because if it wasn’t for them, I would’ve likely stayed stuck at the bottom of my potential.

I would have likely never contributed my skills and talents to the places I’ve worked at or the groups I’ve volunteered for that serve to help others through their challenges.

I might have lost all hope in finding my spirit and struggled to pass on the positive messages and energy every person should strive to add to this world.

And that would have been a serious waste of intelligence.

~ Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

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On mental health awareness and stigma: I think as a collective, we really need to open up more about mental health and talk about the hard issues we all face. Too many people feel alone and ashamed about their mental health issues. Let’s change this.

The discussion that happened on this past post I wrote really gave me hope that people want to talk about mental health. And that no one is alone in their struggles!: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”.

As I said then, thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

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Photo #3 Credit: Sad woman
Photo #4 Credit: Storm clouds gathering
Photo #5 Credit: Thanks, Amy! :)

Taking Down Stage Fright: My First Show

I played my first show a couple of weekends ago. It feels pretty surreal now that it ever happened.

Even the next morning I wasn’t sure that it had. Probably because I went from singing on a stage to a crowd of people in a bar to sitting alone in my cubicle staring at some graphs.

But happen it did. It all started out with me attending my first ever open mic at a place called Free Times Cafe. I don’t want to sing professionally and I don’t care much about performing. BUT I hated the idea of having stage fright.

I’ve had stage fright all my life, since I was a little kid when I would cry if I was being forced to sing in front of people.

When I was a teenager I was taking classical voice lessons and actually dreamed of becoming an opera singer. But I would enter into these singing competitions and when I’d perform, I would get so nervous that I’d forget all the words and something that was NOT my voice would come out of my mouth. It was pretty brutal.

I got back into singing many years later, but this time just for fun. I was taking lessons at my friend’s music school and every year they put on a recital. I still got the uncontrollable shakes the couple of times I sang on stage. And that bothered me.

People who aren’t sure if they’re going to get killed stepping outside of their house on any given day in a war-torn country have something real to fear.

Stage fright? Well, I believe stage fright is an irrational fear stemming from the insecurity you have that people may think you suck after hearing you perform.

I actually think many of the things we’re afraid of doing in life come from caring too much about what other people think. And so we hold back. We don’t pursue the things that would bring us great enjoyment or a more fulfilling life.

And so, when I was asked by the Free Times’ open mic host to come back for their Best of the Open Stage show, I said yes because I knew it was time to really kick stage fright in its big butt.

I practiced really hard for the next couple of months to prepare. I went to a couple more open mics to get practice singing in front of people. I almost planned to go sing out on the street — I figured if I could do that, I was golden!

But I got sick a couple weeks before the show (of course). I tried not to panic and focused on getting better. The night of the show, I was still battling something and was barely keeping myself together. But the audience was so incredibly amazing and all I wanted to do was lay out everything on that stage so I could walk away knowing I did my absolute best.

It turned out to be a great night and I was mostly just ecstatic to have so many of my favourite people in the same room, showing so much love and support.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I truly believe that conquering fear in one area of your life will just make you less fearful in other areas of your life.

And as with most things, practice makes perfect — so, the more you practice pushing fear away and just going for it, the easier it becomes to ALWAYS push fear away when it’s trying to steal the spotlight.

What’s been one of your life-long fears that you’ve either conquered or would like to conquer?

~ Cafe <3